Travelling from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to North Newton, Kansas in the U.S. requires several long flights but also a gigantic leap into a new culture. International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) participant Issaka Dabonne made the most of his journey from Ouagadougou to North Newton in every way he could. Ouagadougou has about 2 million people who primarily speak French, North Newton has about 2,000 people who primarily do not speak French. It could be said that Dabonne’s motto for his time in Kansas was, “I take everything easy.”
IVEP is a long-standing leadership program for young adults from around the world to have the opportunity to work, learn and live in North America for one year and then they return to their home community. Since its beginning in 1950, IVEP has emphasized peacemaking and building understanding across cultures. MCC has programs, SALT and SEED, for young adults from North America to live and work in other countries for a year, as well.
Dabonne ran into paperwork complications with getting his visa application approved at the embassy in Ouagadougou. It was unknown if he would be approved in time to serve with IVEP or if he would continue studying economics at university and working for World Food Program, an NGO that MCC partners with in Burkina Faso. Finally, the paperwork went through and he was placed by MCC to work at the MCC Central States Workroom and Warehouse.
Due to the paperwork issues, he arrived in Kansas in November, a couple months after what is typically the case for IVEP participants. He settled in with his host family David and Heidi Rieger Kreider in North Newton, near enough to MCC that Dabonne could walk or bike back and forth. Unfortunately for Dabonne, he went from warm and sunny Burkina Faso to grey and cold Kansas.
When asked why he decided to sign up for IVEP Dabonne recalls, “I learned at university that it’s better to go to another place and learn how things work there and have a more open mindset about how people are doing things. Then you can improve your own skills and come home and help improve your country… I also wanted to develop skills to be a peace maker, if you don’t know how people are living you can put something in your mind about them and be wrong.”
Dabonne worked alongside the MCC Central States workroom supervisor, Kate Mast, and the warehouse and recycling coordinator, Duane Unruh. Prior to COVID-19, he helped them host volunteer groups in the workroom and warehouse. He gave tours to visitors, learned to drive the forklift in the warehouse, fully participated in all MCC Central States staff activities including the annual planning retreat. He especially enjoyed traveling outside of Kansas with MCC Central States director of donor relations, Maynard Knepp, “I learned how to work and have fun with Maynard while we were on trips together,” recalls Dabonne with a big smile. “I also learned how to raise money and how to talk to people. I’m amazed at the clothing, shoes and paper recycling because people’s extra can help raise money for MCC. I’ll take some ideas back home.”
MCC photo/Michelle Armster
When Dabonne arrived at MCC Central States, executive director Michelle Armster, felt a familial connection, “The gift of Issaka, for me, is that he is from the people of my paternal ancestry. For the both of us, realizing that moved us deeply and instantly there was a connection. He is my cousin, my son, my brother; meeting him and getting to know him has enriched my life.”
Kate Mast reflects, “Issaka opened the door for staff and volunteers to learn more about his home country of Burkina Faso! MCC sends material resources to Burkina Faso, so the work of making hygiene kits or comforters that may someday end up there brought more meaning to the work. Many volunteers were not even sure where Burkina Faso was on the map when Issaka first arrived. He shared his life, skills and heart with us, and our work has been enriched by it. He even taught me a few words in French!”
Unfortunately, COVID-19 put a halt to a lot of the work Dabonne was doing. “I was very sad because I had a lot of plans for traveling with Maynard and then all of it got cancelled. I stayed with my host family and they tried to keep me busy at home. I don’t watch television, so I spent time working in the garden, yard and pasture to stay busy.” Dabonne could also go work alone in the MCC warehouse to help occupy his time.
When asked what he would tell someone considering applying for IVEP, Dabonne said, “It’s a good choice! It’s going to help them have a new perspective…being out of your community will help you to know yourself and to really be a peacemaker with an open mindset. It’s just a great program!”
MCC photo/Kate Mast
“Issaka has been such an asset to our MCC team this year. He has such a willing spirit, positive attitude, and great sense of humor. Every time we worked together, we laughed together! I will really, really miss him,” says Mast.
While Dabonne cannot wait to get back to his family, friends, and favorite foods in Burkina Faso, when COVID-19 allows him to safely return, he also said he would miss how quiet it is in Kansas. Dabonne discovered that he loves apple pie and chicken curry with rice. He was able to travel to Colorado with his host family and his eyes lit up when he talked about the beauty of the mountains. He also expressed a lot of gratitude to his host parents for teaching him about gardening!
Dabonne reflected, “I’m very grateful to have been among you this past year. You can make any situation good depending on how you adjust to it. It will be a good story of my life to tell my children that in 2019 I was in America. May God continue to bless MCC.”
MCC is always looking for more IVEP work placements and host homes. This is a unique opportunity to work alongside a young adult from another part of the world. More information about can be found at mcc.org/ivep or by emailing email@example.com.